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A biography of St. Therese (and a Kindle bargain)

Note: In celebration of the feast of St. Therese on Wednesday, October 1, the Kindle version of Trusting God with St. Therese is only $.99 until 8 AM Pacific Thursday. This may be the only time I run such a sale, so it’s a great opportunity to pick up a copy if you haven’t already.

St. Therese of Lisieux is one of the most popular saints in history. Almost immediately after her death, her little way of spiritual childhood began to spread. She was canonized less than thirty later and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II.

St. Therese’s childhood

Marie-François-Therese Martin was born in Alençon, France in 1873. Her parents were Louis Martin and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin. She was the youngest of their nine children, four of whom died before age six. Louis and Zelie were committed Catholics. They were standouts even in the Catholic subculture that had grown up in the larger, anti-Catholic culture of their place and time. Both had considered religious life before they met and married. Zelie was a successful businesswoman. Louis eventually sold his business to help with hers.

Therese was a talkative, happy, but spoiled child. She had a strong will, but everyone loved her.  When Therese was four,  Zelie was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer. She died before the year was over.  “My happy disposition completely changed after Mama’s death,” Therese later wrote in her autobiography, Story of a Soul. She became shy and extremely sensitive.

The rest of Therese’s childhood was one struggle after another. Her sister Pauline became a substitute mother for her, but left to enter the Carmelite cloister when Therese was nine. Within months, Therese was seriously ill. She probably suffered from a form of post traumatic stress disorder, compounded by harassment from the devil.  A favorite statue of the Blessed Virgin smiled at her, curing her completely.

Therese had problems relating to the other children at school. She had a slight setback in her health when her sister Marie also entered the cloister. She suffered from scruples. And when she made up her mind to enter the cloister herself before her fifteenth birthday, she was forced to delay.

The second miracle in her life was much more ordinary than the first. On Christmas Eve just before her fourteenth birthday, God completely cured her oversensitivity. In an instant, Therese grew up. This time there were no exterior signs, but a dramatic interior transformation.

Therese took her plea to enter Carmel early all the way to Pope Leo XIII. He told her she would enter, “if God wills it.” After what seemed like an eternity to her, the Bishop of Bayeux spoke with the superior of the Carmelites and gave his permission. She entered on April 9, 1888.

A Carmelite nun

Her sisters Pauline (now Sr. Agnes of Jesus) and Marie (Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart), did not realize how much Therese had changed since they left home. Marie went so far as to oppose giving her permission to enter the cloister early. They both expected to continue mothering Therese. Therese had other ideas. She entered Carmel for love of Jesus, not to be with her sisters. She desired to follow the Carmelite Rule as closely as possible. She wanted no special treatment.

Less than a year later, their father Louis suffered a complete mental breakdown. Family members feared for his safety. They took him to a mental hospital in Cannes where he remained for two years.  Therese only saw her beloved father once more, shortly after his return home. Confined to a wheelchair, he uttered only one phrase, “To Heaven!” He died in July 1894.

As Louis’ health declined, Therese turned more and more to God as her Father. During her father’s illness, a spiritual darkness descended upon her, which intensified as her own death grew closer. Weaned from both earthly and heavenly consolations, she looked for peace elsewhere. God led her to trust in His loving goodness in spite of her circumstances.

Many of the nuns in the convent had trying personalities. Therese volunteered for seven years to help a cranky older nun walk from the chapel to the refectory for dinner. When another sister made annoying sounds during their silent prayer time, Therese offered the noise to the Child Jesus as though it were a symphony for His pleasure. She befriended a nun whom most others avoided, seeking her out during recreation and forcing herself to be pleasant when she felt like doing the opposite.

When Agnes of Jesus was elected prioress, she made the former prioress novice mistress, as was the custom. Then she appointed Therese to be the assistant novice mistress. Therese was patient and persevering with the novices in her charge. She was gentle with their natural faults, but never tolerated laziness or excuses. She taught them that God was merciful. If they learned to trust Him completely, she said, they could go straight to Heaven, even if they had some sins of weakness that they were unable to overcome.

Her final illness

On the night after Holy Thursday prayers in 1896, Therese coughed up blood. This was the first clear sign she had tuberculosis. For the next year she hid her illness, continuing to work and pray with the other nuns. At last she opened up to the infirmarian. She was soon relieved of her chores and moved to the infirmary.

She suffered all through the summer of 1897. More than once the doctor declared she would not last through the night. But each time she rallied. Meanwhile, between coughing fits and excruciating pains, she joked with her sisters and the other nuns who visited her. She did her best to comfort them. They wrote down everything she said about her Little Way of Spiritual Childhood. These notes, added to the manuscript Story of a Soul that her superiors had ordered her to write, would later tell the world about God’s goodness and love.

Therese died on September 30, after an agony that lasted for hours. She told her sisters that she would continue working to save souls after her death. “I want to spend my Heaven doing good on earth,” she said. “I will send down a shower of roses.” It wasn’t long before reports of miracles due to her intercession began pouring in to the convent.

Happy feast of St. Therese! May you remain a little child before Our Lord always.

Connie Rossini

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Spiritual growth right where you are now


Temperance by Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Wikimedia Commons). Time passes quickly. Let us live for God today.


I remember reading long ago in The Spiritual Combat by Dom Lorenzo Scupoli, that we deceive ourselves if we think we would be holier if only our exterior circumstances were different. That made a great impression on me.

Temperamentally, some people feel they are in control of everything. Others feel like they are controlled by forces outside themselves. Melancholics can especially fall into this second attitude, feeling sorry for themselves and powerless to change their circumstances. St. Paul encourages such people:

God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7)

Even when we are powerless to overcome our circumstances, God is not. Indeed, as both Paul and St. Therese tell us, our weakness can actually be an asset.

Teresa of Avila warned those who would come after her not to dismiss the holiness of the early Discalced Carmelites with a “that was then, this is now” attitude.

The Time is always propitious for God to grant His great favors towards those who truly serve Him. Let them consider therefore if there is any great fault in them, and amend it.” (Foundations Chap. 4)

We could easily think, “Oh, I’ll have so much more time to pray when I’m retired.” That may be true, but having extra time doesn’t mean we’ll use it wisely. We need to form habits of prayer now, while time is scarce.

Or, “When my kids are in school full time, then I can live a more contemplative life.” But instead, we might spend more time running errands or visiting with friends.

Or, “If only my job weren’t so demanding, I could focus more on my spiritual life.” But perhaps surrender is the next step we are meant to take.

“If my spouse were easier to live with, I’d have far fewer sins.” Maybe we would just have more pride.

The fact is, God knows our circumstances better then we do. When we follow God despite our circumstances we gain more merit than we would if circumstances were easy. And we actually grow, instead of dreaming about growing.

God has a plan for each of us, a plan He wants us to implement today. And though the details may be different according to our temperament, talents, and circumstances, the general outlines of that plan are the same.

Pray. Trust. Be humble. Learn detachment. Do everything with love. Be determined to never give up. These are the foundations of spiritual growth, and they are accessible to us all. This moment.

Connie Rossini

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Did Teresa of Avila teach Centering Prayer?



Last winter on social media, I came across another Catholic author who was promoting yoga. Not as an exercise program, but for spiritual growth. I was shocked. I asked her why she wasn’t promoting prayer instead. She answered, “Meditation is prayer!”


Two months ago, my brother forwarded an email from a colleague, asking about Centering Prayer. A friend was pushing it relentlessly. I looked at the website of the Catholic group that promotes Centering Prayer and found this in the FAQs:

“This form of prayer was first practiced and taught by the Desert Fathers of Egypt … the Carmelites St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and St. Therese of Lisieux…”


The other day a new reader asked in the comments about meditating on Sacred Scripture. “Is this the same as the method of Fr. John Main, who has adapted an Eastern mantra method for Christian meditation?”


I have written a little on this topic before, but I think it’s time to revisit it. Let’s start with Teresa of Avila.

Teresa of Avila’s method of prayer

Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are Doctors of the Church. They are THE experts on Christian prayer. So what method of prayer did Teresa teach? Are you ready to be surprised?


Now that you’ve picked yourself off the floor, let me clarify that a bit. A passage in Teresa’s Foundations does explain briefly how her nuns should practice meditation. But you won’t find a word about this in her classics on prayer Interior Castle or Way of Perfection. Why not? Teresa was not concerned with methods of prayer, but with stages of prayer. She never taught that meditation was a necessary prerequisite to contemplation, let alone the same thing as it.

She had good reasons. In Way of Perfection she mentions a nun who was unable to meditate, but became holy by praying the Our Father slowly and reverently. Teresa herself spent years unable to pray unless she had a book to read, because constant distractions plagued her.

In other words, she knew that everyone was different and that one method of mental prayer would not suit all souls.

Don’t just take my word for it. Here are what others have said:

“What we find in Ss. Teresa and John and in Scripture is a very different message… as far as I can find, not a single sentence … speaks of methodology as a means to deep communion with the God of revelation.” (Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within, 111)

A few paragraphs later Fr. Dubay says:

“While St. Teresa was well acquainted with methods of meditation and wished her young nuns to be instructed in them, she emphatically insisted that the primary need for beginners is not to find the ideal method but to do God’s will from moment to moment throughout the day.”

Pere Marie Eugene, OCD, writes in I Want to See God:

“For Saint Teresa, mental prayer–the door of the castle and the way of perfection–is less a particular exercise than the very practice of the spiritual life…” (53 in the combined 2-volume work with I Am a Daughter of the Church)

Here are the words of Teresa herself:

“Mental prayer, in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse with Him Who we know loves us.” (Way of Perfection)

Shortly after quoting this definition, Pere Marie Eugene explains further:

“According to temperaments, the intercourse of friendship will assume an intellectual form, or an affective, or even sensitive one. The child will put its love for Jesus in a kiss, a smile sent to the tabernacle, a caress for the infant Jesus, an expression of sadness before the crucifix. The youth will sing his love for Christ and will encourage its growth by using expressions and images that strike his imagination and his senses, while waiting until his intellect can provide strong thoughts to form a more spiritual and more nourishing prayer.” (55)

Prayer is accessible to all

Do you see how important this is? If true mental prayer, the necessary preparation for the gift of contemplation, requires an elaborate method, it is elitist. Such a way bars the ignorant, children, and those of certain temperaments or psychological weaknesses from being contemplatives. It bars them from intimacy with Christ. It makes holiness the possession of the few who know enough and who have the right natural gifts. This is not the Gospel!

Children can become saints. Some have. For St. Therese of Lisieux, spiritual childhood was the way to reach the heights of holiness very quickly. And we are supposed to believe that she taught a form of prayer that was reserved for the few?

On the contrary, the essential element is not a method, but the loving friendship between the person praying and God.

St. Therese’s method of prayer

St. Therese speaks in a similar way as her patron saint and spiritual mother:

“With me prayer is a lifting up of the heart, a look towards Heaven, a cry of gratitude and love uttered equally in sorrow and in joy; in a word, something noble, supernatural, which enlarges my soul and unites it to God…. Except for the Divine Office, which in spite of my unworthiness is a daily joy, I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers…. I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands.” (Story of a Soul, Ch. 11)

Do you see any indication there of a method we should all follow? In contrast to this, those who want to learn Centering Prayer are encouraged to attend a retreat or workshop or take an online course. But the proponents of Centering Prayer still insist it’s not a technique! It doesn’t take a workshop or a class to learn to speak to God from the heart. Moses spoke to God “as a man speaks to his friend.” That is mental prayer.

Are methods useless?

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t practice any method of prayer. Methods help us stay on track. They help us not sit idly in our prayer time. Some methods are better than others. But the key is this: no one method of prayer is required to prepare us for contemplation. And no method at all can make us contemplatives.

Contemplation is the goal. And contemplation is not an altered state of consciousness. It is not peaceful feelings. It is a supernatural gift. It is God drawing the soul to Himself on His own initiative. It is a progressive union with Him.

Well, some are

So, why do I say that meditation is not prayer? Prayer can be practiced in many legitimate ways. One of them is meditation. But not Buddhist/Hindu/yoga meditation. Those have a different goal. They are not prayer at all! Christian meditation always centers on Christ. There are many traditional means of Christian meditation. Here is one example.

Do not look for God in pagan religious practices. The Church gives us all we need and more, without the dangers of dabbling in foreign religions.

As for Fr. John Main, the criticisms I have read of his method are very similar to criticisms of Centering Prayer. It too originated in pagan religions, trying to make their practices Catholic, and failing. Christ, not a mantra, is the focus of our prayer. Fr. Main’s organization has been accused of syncretism. He apparently learned his method of “prayer” from a Hindu Swami.

If you want to know what Carmelites mean by contemplation, read the two posts that begin here. God willing, I will speak about prayer further next week.

Connie Rossini

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Blog tour schedule for Trusting God with St. Therese


My book blog tour begins tomorrow! What is a book blog tour? It’s the digital-age substitute for an author’s traveling around the country doing book signings. Most book signings cost the author more in travel and other expenses than he takes in through sales. Of course, meeting readers in person is a great benefit I don’t want to pass up. So I hope to do some traditional book appearances as well.

But for the next two weeks, I will be traveling to the online homes of fellow Catholic bloggers who have agreed to help me share my book with more readers. See the schedule below to follow along for interviews. reviews, a slideshow, an excerpt, and a giveaway. The person with the best comment on a host blog during the tour will have a Mass said for his intentions by my brother, Fr. Michael Mary, M. Carm.

Don’t forget! The Google+ Hangout Launch Party is tonight! If I have already sent you an email invitation, please respond to it now so you don’t miss out. If you bought the book but have not yet been invited, you must email me your purchase order number by noon Central Time today, with the subject line Hangout.” My email is crossini4774 at comcast dot net. This is a one-of-a kind, live video question and answer session. Don’t worry if you’ve never attended a Hangout before or if you don’t have a Google account.

Now, here’s the schedule. I will add links as each post goes up:

Wednesday, August 6       The Breadbox Letters with host Nancy Shuman

Thursday, August 7            Quicksilver to Gold with K. Ann Seeton – take a look at the slide show that summarizes the main point of my book

Friday, August 8                 My scheduled host for today had to take a raincheck. I hope to have a new post on to share with you.

Saturday, August 9             Written By the Finger of God with Anabelle Hazard

Sunday, August 10             Jacqueline Vick at Bad Martha

Monday, August 11            Catholic Fire with Jean Heimann. A giveaway is only one of the things Jean has planned for this post!

Tuesday, August 12           Call Her Happy with Jenna Hines

Wednesday, August 13     Hoi Kai Paulos with Joe Wetterling

Thursday, August 14         Prayer Gardens with Margaret Rose Realy

Friday, August 15               Will Write for Tomato Pie with Erin McCole Cupp

Can I count on your help?

Already readers are telling me how much Trusting God with St. Therese is helping them grow closer to Christ. Here’s a thoughtful, detailed review by Therese at My Desert Heart. I know that many more people are yearning to trust God, but don’t know how to go about it. Will you help me get the word out to them?

Would you please share this post right now on Facebook, Google+,  or Twitter?

Could you commit to sharing the posts during the blog tour?

If you have finished reading Trusting God with St. Therese, could you please write a review on Amazon? Let other readers know your honest thoughts about the book.

Finally, if you have not yet bought the book yourself, now is a great time. Buy it by noon Central Time today, and you can still join our Launch Party this evening. The paperback is now available at Barnes and Noble online too, so you can probably order it from your local store.

God reward you!

Connie Rossini

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Does God work for good in our sins?

Return of the Prodigal Son by Guercino (Wikimedia Commons).


The second reading from Sunday’s Mass included a favorite verse of mine, Romans 8:28:

 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.

The newly ordained priest who said Mass at Holy Trinity Cathedral preached that God works for good even in our sins. Do you believe this? I do, firmly! So did St. Therese of Lisieux.

Today I’d like to examine St. Paul’s teaching on this subject, and what it means for our spiritual lives.

What can separate us from God?

St. Paul writes:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

I have heard Catholic apologists preach on this passage, noting that Paul did not include “sin” in his list. Sin, they argue, can separate us from God, so that’s why Paul did not mention it here. They are trying to keep people from being presumptuous, from thinking that they could sin as often and as badly as they wanted and still go to Heaven.

The Church’s teaching about mortal sin and true hope is worthy of defense. Nevertheless, I believe, after some reflection on Therese’s little way, that Paul was including sin here. After all, he said “nor anything else”–doesn’t that include sin? Paul was not known to be imprecise. He said what he meant. He did not mince words. If he meant “everything except sin,” surely he would have said so!

Now, Paul would never condone taking sin lightly. He says,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1-2)

Those words leave no room for presumption. But he wrote them to balance out these words, which he had written just previously:

Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (Romans 5:20)

Let’s step away from Paul’s writing for a moment and reflect on his life. Paul had been a strict follower of the Law of Moses. He was so zealous for the Law, he says, it lead him to persecute the Church (Philippians 3:6). He sinned miserably, standing as witness at St. Stephen’s death, dragging Christians to prison. He multiplied sin after sin–sins that, objectively speaking, were mortal.

But, he says, he acted in ignorance. Therefore, God had mercy on him (1 Timothy 1:13). In fact, Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, temporarily blinding him. After Paul’s baptism, Jesus spoke to him again, teaching him the Gospel and making him an apostle.

Not every sin is mortal

What can we learn from Paul’s life? Sometimes we might commit objectively mortal sins with the best intentions. When we act in ignorance, truly striving to follow God, we do not separate ourselves from Him, even when we do serious wrong. Our sins cannot separate us from God if we are truly ignorant that they are serious sins. When Paul persecuted the Church, thinking he was pleasing God, Jesus stepped in to enlighten him.

This is the first way in which sin fails to separate us from God.

We also know from the teaching of the Church that less serious sins do not separate us from God. They may temporarily keep us from growing closer to Him, but they do not place us outside the life of grace. If they did, even the saints would be in trouble, for many of them acknowledge that they still committed sins of weakness until the end of their lives.

What about mortal sin?

What if we knowingly, willingly commit mortal sin? Well, that’s a serious problem. St. Paul writes

If you live according to the flesh, you will die. (Romans 8:12)

So, how do we interpret this in light of the other passages we have studied? First, Paul does not seem to consider the idea that we could commit serious sin after we come to Christ. He assumes that we are either for God or against Him, in the Spirit or in the flesh. A later generation of Christians would consider the state of people who fall after baptism.

But Jesus knew this would be an issue. He told us that there is only one unforgivable sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Church interprets this as a refusal to submit to the Spirit’s promptings to repent.

The key for us when we have committed mortal sin is repentance. Everyone who is still physically alive still has a chance to be united with Christ. Our sins can only separate us from God if we hang on to them. They can’t keep us away from God unless we will them to by our stubbornness.

What this means for us

Let’s return to Romans 8:28. Paul says that “everything” works for our good–if we love God. If we submit to God’s authority, including confessing our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they work for our good. They teach us about the great mercy of God. They teach us to rely on Him, not our strength.

When we go around thinking about how badly we have failed God, thinking that we can never be holy now, because we missed Mass on Sunday, or embezzled money from the company, or lied under oath, or publicly denied Christ–or any other sin–we stand in the way of God’s plan. We fail to let Him work for good through our sins.

When we sin–venially or mortally–our first act should be to turn our eyes to God. We lay our sin before Him, but focus on His goodness, not our sinfulness. Once we have done this (including sacramental confession when necessary), we can ask God to work good through our sin.

We can ask Him to help us follow Him more carefully after our sin than we did before it. We can believe that our sin, now forgiven, cannot keep us from sanctity. We can believe that it will even help us reach sanctity.

Do we believe that God can work for our good through our sins? Or do we believe our sins are more powerful than God?

Connie Rossini

Note: I know many of you have bought Trusting God with St. Therese, because I see my sales stats. I would like to thank you personally by inviting you to my online book launch party next Tuesday. Please email your purchase number to crossini4774 at comcast dot net with the subject line “Hangout.” I will send you an invitation to our Google+ Hangout. Do it now so you don’t miss out!

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And the winners are . . .


If you missed last week’s post, you missed the announcement of the release of Trusting God with St. Therese. You also missed a contest. I am giving away one signed paperback to each of these two readers:

  • Joe Sales
  • Delores Huemiller

Congratulations! I will send you both an email asking for your mailing addresses.

Thank you, everyone who entered. If you didn’t win, there will be more opportunities in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please consider buying the ebook, which is only $3.99 on Amazon.  Last week it reached #19 in Kindle Best Sellers in Catholicism on Amazon. It has also consistently been #2 or #3 in Hot New Releases in Catholicism.

Here is what some other Catholic authors have said about Trusting God with St. Therese:

“A heartfelt and fascinating story! In Trusting God with St. Therese, author Connie Rossini bares her soul and shares intimately about her lifetime struggle to trust God. Through the help of St. Therese, Rossini has discovered that God’s grace is essential to conquer fears, anger, and anxiety and will enable trust to blossom in one’s heart. Helpful reflection points punctuate each chapter. You’ll love this book!”
– Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, EWTN TV Host and best-selling author

“Connie Rossini has made a great saint into someone accessible and real in her book Trusting God with St. Therese. In the journey through this book, you’ll marvel at how much you’ll relate. But if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself changed … for the better. Rossini has truly put together a gem of a book here, one that is sure to be loved and shared by many!”
-Sarah Reinhard, Catholic author and blogger,

Two places to keep track of events related to my books

I set up a new FaceBook page for my publishing company, Four Waters Press. Would you please “like” the page for me? I will be posting all the events regarding my books there, as well as on my Events Page here. That way I do not have to keep book-related events on the front page of my blog. But I will continue to remind you of them as they come up. Look for a schedule for the Blog Book Tour soon. I am finalizing dates with other bloggers who have volunteered to help spread the word about my book.

If you have already bought Trusting God with St. Therese, don’t forget to email me your purchase number from Amazon. That is your ticket to my exclusive digital launch party on August 5. More details on the launch party are coming soon.

I will try to reserve most of my Friday posts for subjects other than my book, so you don’t get tired of hearing about it. Please continue to pray and spread the word about Trusting God with St. Therese. I am convinced that Therese’s teaching on trust can change lives. It has changed mine. It can change yours as well.

If you have already read Trusting God with St. Therese, please consider writing a short review on Amazon or Goodreads to let others know your honest thoughts about it. God reward you!

Connie Rossini